How media can shape development agenda beyond ego-massaging of politicians
• Scorecard Of Port Harcourt As ICA Regional Hub Praised
Dateline: Monday, May 30, 2022. The conference of International Communication Association (ICA), a global body of communication scholars, teachers and practitioners, who had gathered in Paris, France, for five days to deliberate on global communication scholarship ended on a satisfactory note.
The position Port Harcourt, headquarters of West African Regional Hub, held among the 11 ICA regional hubs across the world received global applause.
Both Mary Beth Oliver, who just finished her term, and the new ICA president of Indian descent, Prof. Noshir Contractor, who both visited the Port Harcourt hub virtually, gave glowing commendation to hub organiser, Ekaete George, for her organisational skills in making Port Harcourt hub the most vibrant among 11 approved for this year.
The ICA global conference had as theme One World, One Network. With ‘Reclaiming Authenticity in Communication’ as theme, the 2023 edition will be hosted in Toronto, Canada.
Working with a crop of young and dedicated team members, George did not rely only on ICA’s programmes from France held virtually among the 11 regional hub centres, she infused a heavy dose of programmes and topics that have local colouration to make her hub buzzing for the five days alongside those beamed from Paris. As a doctoral candidate at the Department of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, George smartly made her university the core of her programme design and involved both her teachers and fellow post-graduate students who heavily invested in the programme activities to make a huge success of the Port Harcourt hub.
Importantly, the university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Georgewill Onuwari, played a key role in the success the hub had in making available the digitally well-equipped University of Port Harcourt Business School’s space for virtual learning, tucked in the serenity of the city’s GRA, since ASUU would not allow any activity at the main campus.
On the opening day of the conference, the former president, Oliver visited the hub and gave commendations for the good job Port Harcourt was doing to spread the message of ICA to under-served regions. Then President-elect, Contractor, also visited on Day 2 to meet and greet hub attendees and shed light on some issues challenging developing regions like Port Harcourt, particularly his plans for such hubs and how to mitigate financial difficulties of such hubs, so they could undertake all ICA activities.
Port Harcourt hub’s signature programme, ‘Media Coverage of Nigerian Elections: Recurring Themes from 2015 and 2019 Presidential Elections with the 2023 Campaign in View’ became an explosive session, as it took a historical review of elections from the First Republic through to the 2019 election and how the past is gradually shaping and foreshadowing the forthcoming 2023 general elections. The media scholars who spoke on the issue based on a review of media researches carried out over the years were Prof. Charles C. Okigbo of North Dakota State University, U.S., Prof. Bala Musa of Azusa Pacific University, U.S., Prof. Muhammad Musa of UAE University, Abu Dhabi, UAE, and, Dr. Gregory Ugbo of Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
In tracing the historical trajectory of elections in Nigeria, Prof. Muhammed Musa echoed late Prof. Claude Ake’s position on how the elite increasingly seek power for themselves rather than share it among their peers thus setting the pace for elections that would be influenced by regional and religious factors in Nigeria’s electioneering.
According to him, “the bond of unity among the elite grew weaker as each wanted power for themselves and began to work against the interests of others to gain power.”
In reviewing published literature, mostly newspapers, on how the media fared in coverage of previous elections, Ugbo, who spoke for the four scholars, said ethnicity and religion are still socio-cultural factors that shape elections in the country, dating back to 1979. They noted that there has been a continuous decline in quality of elections, according to findings by studies. They also cited patrilineal tendencies, that is dominance of personalities in elections. They identified foreign interference and connivance as another factor that, instead of advancing Nigeria’s democracy, retard it. Interference of American President Barrack Obama partly truncated President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election in 2015.
Also underscored was the point that major contenders tend to undermine the quality of elections while they merely horse trade rather than engage in issue-based campaigns. Then there’s media capture that they said tend to cloud media campaign that tend to overtly or covertly influence media report. However, they were agreed that media coverage in 2015 and 2019 were issues-based. Ugbo also said vote-buying and election violence also featured prominently in media coverage of elections.
The panel session that followed took the media to account, accusing Nigerian media of ego-massaging politicians and not asking them revealing questions regarding their campaign promises, whether as aspirants or candidates, that would help the electorate to make wise choices in who they elect. The media was also advised to redefine campaign messages away from ethno-religious tendencies to development-related issues, so the electorate is properly guided on how to vote.
For instance, all the presidential aspirants were accused of merely talking about how they would win the candidacy of their respective political parties without addressing specific and real issues of development. A panel member and River State INEC’s Residence Election Officer, Mr. Obo Effanga, said no politician mentioned how he or she would address the issue of education with universities being shut for over 120 days now. None, he also argued, addressed how exactly they would source for money to fix the healthcare, or stop importation of refined fuel and produce for local consumption.
According to Effanga, “The media is failing. Media is not asking hard questions about how aspirants and candidates will achieve their electioneering campaign promises. What we have is more personality exhibition of aspirants and candidates. Media is not shaping development narratives in favour of the electorate but ego-massaging of politicians and their promises. How exactly will politicians achieve what they are promising?”
Another panel member, Anni Abdulsalaam charged media to redefine its role away from only putting out information about politicians but project what the electorate needs. According to her, “media should be solution providers rather than merely regurgitating only what politicians say,” but must task politicians on their electoral promises at all times.
Prof. Bala Musa who spoke on declining Nigeria’s political culture said four ‘Ps’ – power, product, personality and people – largely define the electoral process and outcome in each election circle, a development that has tended to undermine the process. Musa said the elite use power for its own sake for personal self-aggrandisement while the parties are the organs of political culture, as they choose who they want to contest elections. Also, he said personalities tend to drive the electoral process, with the pendulum swinging in favour of strong personalities like President Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari or weak ones in the case of Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. He also spoke about people, noting that whereas power out to derive from the people in normal political processes, it is not the case in Nigeria, but as politics is not market-driven and voter-centric. But he hoped that the 2023 elections will entail citizens mobilisation and participation, and that issues like political zoning and power rotation, national dialogue and restructuring take centre stage of discourse and media coverage for better electoral outcomes.
Also enriching was the session on ‘Communicating Social Justice and Activism in Nigeria: The Nexus between Theory and Practice’ parading, as panelists, Head of Department, Communication and Media Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Dr. Chris Ochonogor, Senior Lecturer, Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Dr. Endwell Obinichi-Aaron, and Diego Okenyodo of Institute of Strategic Studies, Federal University, Keffi, Nasarawa.
For Ochonogor and Obinichi-Aaron were agreed that Nigerian media was not doing enough in terms of engaging in activism in covering social issues that urgently need government’s redress. They argued that journalists should do more to raise awareness about social issues, seek out those whose issues need highlighting for relevant authorities to take action. They said media focus seems to be more on so-called news makers rather than the downtrodden in society and other issues of concern. They said media access was only for those who could afford it, thus shutting out a vast majority of aggrieved citizens from being heard. They also challenged media scholars to do more to engage in activism, by carrying out research in areas of social concern for the dispensation of social justice for those in need.
However, a lawyer and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Dr. Itieke-Idamieba Harry, argued that social activism in the media is problematic, because while the constitution says in one breath that the welfare of citizens is the fundamental business of government, in another section, it also states that certain inactions of government are not justiceable, like not mending a broken road that causes accident and death, absence of medical facility, etc. He said that such contradiction makes it hard for any social activism to be effective, since government could be held accountable for it own lapses. He sued for a reworking of the relevant sections of the constitution to be changed to be in tune with what obtains elsewhere where government can be sued for neglecting to fulfill its duty to the citizenry.